Don’t Look Now – Criterion UHD Blu-ray Review

5 Stars Roeg's enigmatic horror film gets its US UHD Blu-ray debut
Don't Look Now Review

Don’t Look Now. Beginning his career as a cinematographer – with credits such as The Masque of the Red Death (1964), Fahrenheit 451 (1966) and Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) – Nicolas Roeg made his directorial debut sharing the director’s chair with Donald Cammell on the cult thriller Performance (1970). However, he really caught the attention of critics with his first solo directorial effort, Walkabout (1971); for his sophomore solo effort, he brought to life a short story from author Daphne du Maurier – whose novel Rebecca and short story The Birds got unforgettable cinematic adaptations done by Alfred Hitchcock – Don’t Look Now. Previously released on both DVD and Blu-ray by Paramount and a UHD Blu-ray release in 2019 by Studiocanal, the Criterion Collection has revisited their past Blu-ray release and given the movie its UHD Blu-ray debut here in the US.

Don't Look Now (1973)
Released: 01 Jan 1974
Rated: R
Runtime: 110 min
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Cast: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Mason
Writer(s): Daphne Du Maurier, Allan Scott, Chris Bryant
Plot: A married couple grieving the recent death of their young daughter are in Venice when they encounter two elderly sisters, one of whom is psychic and brings a warning from beyond.
IMDB rating: 7.2
MetaScore: 95

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: Criterion Collection
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English PCM 1.0 (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: R
Run Time: 1 Hr. 50 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray
Case Type: Clear keep case
Disc Type: UHD
Region: A
Release Date: 10/03/2023
MSRP: $49.95

The Production: 5/5

“My daughter is dead, Laura. She does not come peeping with messages back from the ******* grave! Christine is dead! She is dead! Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead!” – John Baxter (Donald Sutherland)

Following the tragic accidental drowning of their daughter Christine, John and Laura Baxter (Julie Christie) leave England behind to travel to Venice to work on restoring an ancient church. While trying to come to terms with the grief of Christine’s passing, Laura meets two elderly sisters, one of whom – Heather (Hilary Mason) – is a psychic and claims to have seen Christine, despite being blind. As the mysterious circumstances start to pile up – including the news of a serial killer running amok in Venice – John notices a small figure cloaked in the same red coat Christine was wearing at the time of her death; however, Heather’s “visions” of Christine are really warnings that John may be heading towards his own untimely death…

Don’t Look Now is one of the most enigmatic horror films of the 1970’s and one that could’ve only been done by cinematographer turned director Nicolas Roeg. Adapted from the short story by Daphne du Maurier, screenwriters Allan Scott and Chris Bryant weave a haunting tale of the supernatural in Gothic style that also functions as a devastating portrait of the damage grief can leave in the wake following a tragedy. The fragmented narrative – often shuttling back and forth between the present and the past here, with some glimpses at the future – can leave viewers disoriented from their first viewing, but this is a movie that warrants multiple viewings to fully appreciate the unique structure of the film. The film is also visually beautiful as one would expect from Roeg, but it’s Anthony B. Richmond who deserves a lot of the credit for making the Venice locales here bristle with beauty, suspense, shadow and unease; also, Roeg pays more than several debts to the work of Alfred Hitchcock here, imbuing the film with several nods to the Master of Suspense’s signature style (notice how Laura’s scream segues to the sound of a power drill’s shrill screech in a notable aural transition). Best of all, Roeg doesn’t neglect the quality of the performances of his actors, as they truly bring this occult-themed horror thriller to life. Overall, Don’t Look Now is a slow burning type of horror film whose impact is still felt long after the credits roll.

Already familiar with the horror genre with films like Fanatic (1965), Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (also 1965) and Castle of the Living Dead (1964, which he played three roles, including an old man and a witch!), Donald Sutherland has one of his best leading roles as John Baxter, consumed with grief over his daughter’s death and possibly having the gift of second sight; he would notably return to the genre in Philip Kaufman’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Having already been anointed with an Oscar for Darling (1965) – and just fresh off of receiving another Oscar nod for Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) – Julie Christie also has one of the best performances of her career as Laura, who comes to believe that Christine is really trying to communicate with her and John; although not often associated with the horror genre, she would return to it a couple more times in her career with Demon Seed (1977) and Red Riding Hood (2011). As the blind psychic Heather, Hilary Mason achieved international recognition for one of her best known roles; she would later achieve cult status for her appearances in Stuart Gordon’s Dolls (1987) and Robot Jox (1990). Rounding out the cast here are Clelia Matania as Heather’s sister Wendy, Massimo Serato as the bishop overseeing the church’s restoration, Renato Scarpa as the police lieutenant looking into the murders plaguing Venice, Leopoldo Trieste as the hotel manager, Nicholas Salter and Sharon Williams as John and Laura’s children – respectively – Johnny and Christine (the latter’s death in the opening minutes of the movie is what propels the story), Bruno Cattaneo as Detective Sabbione and the diminutive Adelina Poerio – a singer who was cast after Roeg saw her photo during a casting session – as the woman in the red coat who figures prominently in the shocking climax to the movie.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

This UHD/Blu-ray combo release presents the film in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio, taken from a HDR/Dolby Vision master created from a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative, supervised and approved by cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond (likely the same transfer used for the 2019 Studiocanal UHD Blu-ray release); the UHD disc presents the film in HDR, while the Blu-ray disc presents the movie in SDR. Film grain, color palette and fine details are faithfully presented with minimal to no cases of scratches, tears and dirt present; this release has quite an interesting and peculiar difference: the UHD disc has the film opening with the Janus Films and Studiocanal logo rather than the original Paramount logo, while the Blu-ray disc has the original Paramount logos intact. Other than that noticeable difference, this release bests the previous Criterion release in terms of visual quality.

Audio: 5/5

The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a PCM track for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and Pino Donaggio’s music score are all presented faithfully with minor cases of distortion, crackling, popping or hissing present. Overall, this release builds upon the already solid Criterion Blu-ray release and is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.

Special Features: 4.5/5

Conversation with film writer/historian Bobbie O’Steen and film editor Graeme Clifford (43:05) – Carried over from the previous Criterion release, Clifford and O’Steen talk about the film’s unconventional editing style.

Don’t Look Now: Looking Back (19:25) – In this archival featurette from 2002, director Nicolas Roeg, cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond and film editor Clifford revisit the film and their memories in making it.

Don’t Look Now: Death in Venice (17:30) – Pino Donaggio, the film’s composer, talks about his challenges in transitioning from singer to writing music for this movie – his first – and breaking down the themes in this 2006 interview.

Something Interesting (29:42) – Also carried over from the 2016 Criterion release, screenwriter Allan Scott, actors Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland reflect on making the movie in addition to cinematographer Richmond.

Nicolas Roeg: The Enigma of Film (14:20) – The final featurette from the 2016 Criterion release has filmmakers Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh sharing their appreciation of the movie and Roeg’s work in general.

2003 Q&A with Roeg at the Ciné Lumière in London (47:34)

Theatrical Trailer (3:17)

Foldout feat. an essay by film critic David Thompson

Overall: 5/5

Highly praised by critics – despite not making much of an impression at the box office on its initial release – upon first release and beyond, Don’t Look Now is one of the most crucial and influential works in the horror genre, Nicolas Roeg’s career and even 20th century British film. Criterion has surpassed their previous Blu-ray release of the movie with a stellar HDR transfer while carrying over the previous special features from their previous Blu-ray release. Very highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from the previous Blu-ray.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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PMF

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I guess it was inevitable. Here we have a stellar 4K/UHD of Don't Look Now from Criterion; and not too long after my having made purchase of their BD.

Clearly, this title and transfer demands that dastardly double-dip. All in all, though, when it comes down to a Roeg, Malick or Powell & Pressburger, none of these upgrades seems to bother me at all. Indeed, they are welcomed.

Thank you t1g3r5fan for this review.

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Ronald Epstein

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What would Criteriion do differently with the transfer over the Studio Canal release? Or, is it just a matter of the same transfer but Studio Canal has overseas rights and Criterion has domestic?

Anyone on the fence about this title in 4k, I haven't seen the Criterion release but if the transfer is the same, the Studio Canal one is spectacular.
 
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